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Ending Epileptic Seizures

Monday, January 05, 2009

New surgeries and a study by JAMA confirm there are more options for patients.

Milwaukee, Wis. -- One in ten people will suffer from a seizure in their life and many of those will be diagnosed with epilepsy. Medication will help approximately two-thirds of the people with epilepsy, but many continue to have seizures; even though there are other alternatives.

"Epilepsy ended my teaching career," says Mary Catanzaro a former English lecturer at Marquette University. "I would have seizures in front of my students and never know that they had happened."

Catanzaro suffered from complex partial seizures. These seizures, while not as recognizable as the "shaking" seizures of the movies, are common. In Catanzaro's case one of these episodes left her with third-degree burns after she placed her hand on a hot frying pan.

"For 20 years I tried different pharmaceuticals," says Catanzaro. "When a new drug came out, my doctor was handing me a prescription, but it never worked."

The average patient waits 20 years before taking the next step and has surgery. Temporal lobectomies cure many epilepsy cases but factors limit patients from taking advantage of this option.

"Many people are scared by brain surgery, and that is understandable, but it keeps them from treatment for far too long," says Dr. George Morris, an epileptologist at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee. "Another difficulty is that only specialized neurosurgeons perform this procedure. Many patients rely on their physician to refer them to the best course of action, and they never learn about the successes we are having with temporal lobectomies."

Approximately one-third of the affected population will not respond to pharmaceutical treatments for epilepsy, according to Dr. Morris. Those same people do have another option. Surgically we can remove a small section of their temporal lobe and stop or minimize their seizures. Better than four out of every five surgical patients will see either significant success or see their epilepsy cured.

In December, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that recommends that surgery should be considered more quickly to treat patients with epilepsy. The conclusion of the JAMA study concludes that the average patient will experience substantial gains in life expectancy and quality of life from these surgeries.

According to Dr. Morris a temporal lobectomy has been shown to be as safe as any other general surgery. Additionally, patient's IQ testing after surgery has shown no changes and most return to work within six weeks.

Today Catanzaro works from home and contributes to many scholarly books.

"It took me about 5 years to realize that I was cured," says Catanzaro. "I was always waiting for the next seizure, but now the waiting and the fear are over."

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of care. Aurora provides care at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

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Adam V. Beeson
414-649-3915
adam.beeson@aurora.org

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